Book review: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

Monday, February 25, 2019 Permalink

I enjoyed Kelly Rimmer’s Before I Let You Go, released last year. At the time I described it as genre-less. In a good way.

The blurb for her latest mentions World War II and the 1940s which had me worried as I’m not a fan of historical fiction. I do however, read books that flick between timeframes, as per Kate Morton and Natasha Lester, which is exactly what The Things We Cannot Say does.

It’s a book in which Rimmer tackles a couple of weighty subjects: WWII and Nazi Germany; as well as complexities associated when parenting children with disabilities and learning difficulties.

Book review: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly RimmerThe Things We Cannot Say
by Kelly Rimmer
Published by Hachette Australia
on February 26th 2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 9780733639180
Pages: 415

2019 Life changed beyond recognition for Alice when her son, Eddie, was born with autism spectrum disorder. She must do everything to support him, but at what cost to her family? When her cherished grandmother is hospitalised, a hidden box of mementoes reveals a tattered photo of a young man, a tiny leather shoe and a letter. Her grandmother begs Alice to return to Poland to see what became of those she held dearest.

WWII Alina and Tomasz are childhood sweethearts. The night before he leaves for college, Tomasz proposes marriage. But when their village falls to the Nazis, Alina doesn't know if Tomasz is alive or dead.

2019 In Poland, separated from her family, Alice begins to uncover the story her grandmother is so desperate to tell, and discovers a love that bloomed in the winter of 1942. As a painful family history comes to light, will the struggles of the past and present finally reach a heartbreaking resolution?

Alice and Alina are wonderful hosts as we switch between their two stories, knowing of course they will become one at some point.

Rimmer doesn’t sugar-coat Alice’s life. Oldest daughter, Pascale (Callie) is mostly a delight but as a 10yr old child prodigy, she can be a tad demanding. Seven year old Edison (Eddie) is even more physically and emotionally demanding because of his ASD. Her marriage to Wade is solid but he works a lot and doesn’t share the load when it comes to Eddie in particular.

Eddie cannot speak, and though he can hear, he cannot process / understands words so communicates via an iPad program (Augmentative and Alternative Communication app) using images. Alice’s life revolves around his routines – setting out pictorial explanations for the day ahead and planning each day to a microsecond.

I can’t let myself wish Eddie was different. Even letting that thought linger in my mind would feel like a betrayal to my son. p 110

When we first meet Alice and Eddie he’s throwing himself around a supermarket aisle because the only yoghurt he will eat has a new label. Their routine has been further disrupted because Alice’s beloved grandmother (Hanna) has had a stroke and been hospitalised.

Immediately after the stroke Hanna is unable to communicate but – as she’s well-versed in communicating via Eddie’s iPad app – is able to use it. And the ninety-five year old asks Alice to find her husband.

It’s confusing to Alice and her mother Julita, because Tomasz is dead. But Hanna is adamant that Alice must travel to her hometown in Poland to find him.

Alice realises it’s impossible for her to go. Her husband remains in denial about the extent of Eddie’s autism and refuses to adapt his routines for his son – believing they need to challenge Eddie more. But Wade surprises Alice, suggesting she go.

And it’s an experience they all need, as it happens.

Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s we meet a teenaged Alina. Her beloved Tomasz has gone to University in the city when the Germans arrive in their village. Alina’s parents are farmers and forced to contribute produce for the soldiers and only given meagre supplies in return.

They’re lucky though as smoke fills the sky above the nearby detention camps (Auschwitz and Birkenau). Although Alina’s is in her late teens by now, her parents try to protect her as much as possible, telling her they’re from furnaces heating water for the camp.

The reluctant acceptance and resilience of those impacted during wartime Poland is really well reflected here. And when Alina is reunited with Tomasz and they have a plan for escape, it sounds treacherous but there’s a distinct sense of hope, despite what lies before them to reach freedom.

Rimmer paces the novel well so our knowledge of the past merges with Alice’s, as she travels to Trzebinia with just a photograph and letter, to unlock her grandmother’s secrets and offer a dying woman some closure about those she knew and loved.

Our characters (in the present and past) are challenged by life. My #firstworldproblems pale into oblivion compared to those faced by Alice and Alina. And yet, perhaps they are stronger and their lives richer as a result of adversities they have to overcome.

I read this in a riveted sitting and Rimmer’s drawn on her own family history here to share the resilience and heartbreak of those living with the uncertainty and danger of war. (And it’s a harsh reminder that many still are forced to survive in similar circumstances today.)

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer will be published by Hachette Australia and available from 26 February 2019.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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